For the record, Nipsey Hussle never once said that his ideas weren’t wild and crazy. After a brief stint with Epic Records in 2010, Nipsey scoffed at the concept of being on a major label, in hopes of gaining traction as an independent artist on the rap circuit.
While his contemporaries gained immediate success courtesy of their label signings, Hussle faced the arduous task of working backwards in order to gain stardom and liberation, later facing criticism because his debut album, Victory Lap, encountered numerous delays and setbacks. Undeterred, in 2013, the MC laughed straight to the bank after the release of his seminal project, Crenshaw, which birthed his #Proud2Pay marketing campaign. The unprecedented plan allowed Hussle to sell 1,000 copies for $100 a purchase. Not only did he manage to meet his goals, one of his childhood heroes, JAY-Z, saluted his efforts and purchased 100 copies of his own.
Unsatisfied with his impressive success, Hussle tinkered with his concept and stretched the campaign even more with his 2014 release, Mailbox Money. This time, he upped the price from $100 to $1000 and only sold 100 copies. Within the first month of selling, Nipsey managed to sell 60 copies, earning him $60,000 alone. While he could have easily continued on with the #Proud2Pay campaign, instead of exhausting the idea, he brought his label All Money In over to Atlantic Records last year, for the release of his long-awaited official debut album, Victory Lap.
Laced with bombastic production, Nip’s swagger on the set is bulletproof. On the opening track, he sets the tempo by telling listeners over the soulful soundscape, “I’m prolific, so gifted/ I’m the type that’s gon’ go get it, no kiddin’.” Even when standing alongside rap behemoth Kendrick Lamar, his level of confidence remains unruffled, as he boldly calls himself the “Tupac of my generation,” on the Kendrick-featuring “Dedication.”
With his debut album slated to bow in the top five on the Billboard 200, Nipsey Hussle’s late arrival to the mainstream world seems to still be right on time. Now, one can only wonder, where will he go from here? Billboard sat down with the West Coast lyricist at Del Frisco Grille in New York City to talk the creation of Victory Lap, Donald Trump, the genius of Master P, his relationship with Rich Ross and MMG, and similarities he sees between himself and Tupac Shakur.
While I was in LA, I went back and I was playing your song “Killer” featuring Drake, and in my head, I started doing a comparison. You and Drake almost came up at the same time, and took very different routes, but y’all are both successful. How did you manage to get to this point where you are today, to be so successful despite any setbacks you had?
I think you said it. I took a different route. I wanted to learn how to do it myself, as an artist and as a company. I built a company at the same time I built a career. I built a label at the same time I built a career. I suffered at times and I benefited at times because of it. There was no infrastructure that I came into. I had to learn through trial and error — I made a lot of mistakes, and I did a lot of things right. It was the route that I believed in and what was destined for me. I always had faith in my creative capacity. I say that in the most humble way: I always knew that I could perform with the best of ‘em and I could deliver with the best of ‘em.
Let’s say I accept my greatness as an artist, and fast forward to me being acknowledged globally as a great artist. In my perfect dream, how would I want my shit to be situated business-wise? I’d want to be on my own label. I’d want to represent my brothers and my team. So, I worked backwards. I believed I was going to be recognized globally as a great artist one day so I was willing to put the work in. I wanted to make sure that to get there, I didn’t diminish the opportunity to do it as All Money In and do it as my own team. That was the goal coming into it.
That’s why we had to build our value outside of the major labels so we could prove our worth. It was part of a bigger picture. To the public and to the, I guess, the critics, it might have been perceived as, “What’s taking so long?” I was comfortable with that. I never explained it, and I never went into detail about it, because I don’t ever want to make excuses. That was my strategy to get here.
One of the things I’m most proud about is, if you look at the album, it says “All Money In – Atlantic Records.” That’s my debut album. I’m really proud of the music, but I’m proud of the business structure also. That ain’t easy. That ain’t an easy thing to negotiate as an artist.
You could have taken that label route. I remember Rick Ross was looking at you heavy, and he wanted you on Maybach so hard. Though you never signed, do you ever ponder if that Maybach situation could have been something special for your career?
I’m MMG still. That’s in my heart. I’m honorary MMG. I rep Rozay shit and I believe in that brand. I think Rozay’s a genius, and I think he’s one of the most prolific artists in this generation. I rep MMG like it’s my shit, like I rep All Money In.
Let’s rewind back to 2013 and your song “The Outro,” where you rapped: “Peace to the city n—a I’m the hottest/ Even if the OGs don’t acknowledge it.” When you walk around Cali today, in contrast to five years ago, do you feel like you finally earned that respect from the OGs, whether it’s from music or what you did for the community?
At that time, I was speaking to not being embraced. Not that they owe me that, but I felt at that time in my perspective, to not embrace it was intentional — because you can’t ignore what I’m doing. I was speaking to that reality. Overall, man, I realized it ain’t about nobody acknowledging you. It’s about working with what you got and executing the greatness. In hindsight, nobody owed me nothing.
On that same song, you kind of spoke things into the universe, when you rapped, “When I drop an album, they’ll be proud to pay” — which sparked your #Proud2Pay campaign. Are you surprised with how successful the idea became over the years?
I’m surprised to a degree, but I believed in it. I was inspired by a radical concept translating into reality.